In the land of the shadow of defeat, a light has dawned. The Guardians are handing the ball to Tanner Bibee to try to salvage the series finale against the Rockies.
Bibee is in the top seven of Guardians prospects for every primary, public prospect evaluator. FanGraphs had him fourth on the team and 69th in MLB, MLB Pipeline had him fifth and 99th. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel had him seventh and 93rd and Keith Law of the Athletic had him fourth and 36th. He was also chosen as the Guardians’ fourth-best prospect by Covering the Corner users this spring.
In 2022, Bibee had a 11.83/1.83 K/BB/9 and a 2.78 FIP. In 2023, he has a 11.15/4.70 K/BB/9 and a 2.55 FIP. The inflated walk rate came from his last outing where he walked five — aside from that he has been very consistent in walking one to two batters per nine innings. Bibee’s swinging strike rate was 15.6% in High-A, 13.9% in Double-A, and has been about 13% in Triple-A.
Let’s see what Erik Longenhagen at FanGraphs had to say about Bibee prior to this year.
Bibee was a notable West Coast pitchability prospect for a while, but he never took a step forward at Fullerton and was passed over completely in the shortened 2020 draft. As a fourth-year junior in 2021, he was still sitting 88-92 mph, with his fastball velocity sometimes drifting as low as 86 mph in a given start. He still threw a ton of strikes and went in the fifth round of the 2021 draft, projecting as a high-floor, low-ceiling depth starter based on his command. What a difference a year makes. By the middle of 2022, Bibee was sitting 95. He also altered his breaking ball usage (more sliders, fewer curves) and increased his changeup frequency, and was so advanced from a pitchability standpoint that Cleveland quickly saw fit to send him to Akron, where he spent most of his first pro season.
Zack Buchanan of the Athletic wrote an interesting article describing how the Guardians have helped pitchers like Joey Cantillo find more velocity, and the answer includes using bungee cords. We know that Bibee spent time at Driveline in the offseason prior to the 2022 season, and then made some mechanical adjustments in Cleveland, additionally. Whether it’s weighted balls, bungee cords, or duct tape, it’s all helped an extremely hard-working player make some huge steps forward. I can only imagine what a guy sitting 88-92 would do to start throwing 99 mph with regularity as Bibee has done.
Bibee seems like a great personality, showing some natural humility when talking to Andre Knott of Bally Sports about a potential call-up:
.@CLBClippers' pitcher, Tanner Bibee, comments on his teammates getting called up to the MLB level.#ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/ELcezQXEZt— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) April 18, 2023
You can hear more from Bibee with some great interviews he did with Locked On Guardians and At the Corner Podcast. At the Corner Pod also interviewed Tanner’s dad, Scott, who offers some neat insights on his son. He talks about working with teammates here for MLB.com.
Bibee relies on his fastball-slider combo, mixing in the occasional changeup and curveball as show-me pitches to keep hitters off balance. In 238 pitches in Triple-A this season, Bibee has thrown 121 fastballs, 78 sliders, 25 changeups, and 14 curveballs. He has got caught or swinging strikes on 31 fastballs, 34 sliders, 11 changeups, and 5 curveballs. His spin rates on all his pitches appear to be above average. I suspect he will continue to perfect his pitch mix, perhaps developing either the curve or change (or both) as a consistent strikeout pitch to play off his fastball and slider.
Here you can see Bibee blowing a major-league quality hitter away with his fastball:
Tanner Bibee strikes out Jorge Alfaro on a 99 MPH fastball. pic.twitter.com/KzNHqdJeXk— La Mole (@FranmilsEyebrow) April 13, 2023
And here is an excellent collection of Bibee’s breaking stuff, showing some very pretty curveballs:
Still thinking about Tanner Bibee’s start yesterday. He was filthy. Just look at some of the breaking stuff… My god. #ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/socnYoI3TM— Ethan Forness (@PopPunkdEthan) April 8, 2023
In the middle of a depressing stretch for the Guardians, it’s very exciting to see them give another elite pitching prospect a chance to compete in the majors. As you watch today, enjoy seeing where Bibee’s fastball is sitting velocity-wise, take a look at how hitters react to his slider, and count how many times he is willing to mix in a changeup and a curve.
The debut will be a special moment for Tanner and his family, and also for the Guardians organization and their fans. Here’s hoping Bibee can match Logan Allen’s initial effort from Sunday and give the Guardians a chance to win a baseball game, and begin what we all hope will be a successful and award-winning major league career.